“Salome in the Court of Queen Christina”
The lurid biblical story of John the Baptist, King Herod, and Herod’s precocious stepdaughter became an operatic hit in 1905 when Richard Strauss composed a musical setting of Oscar Wilde’s scandalous play Salome. Wilde and Strauss punish their Salome by crushing her to death at the final curtain, but an earlier musical version of this character—la Figlia in Alessandro Stradella’s oratorio San Giovanni Battista (1675)—manages to triumph at the end, celebrating her seductive wiles. Not coincidentally, Stradella composed for Queen Christina of Sweden, who took up residence in Rome after her infamous abdication. The sole female patron among the popes and cardinals who called the shots in this city, she fostered representations of powerful women and even broke prohibitions that usually guaranteed that castrati played all high-voiced roles. This talk will present performed excerpts from Stradella’s stunning score. It will also consider the reasons why femmes fatales ruled the operatic stage in the seventeenth no less than in the late nineteenth century.